Juniper and Hadley are good friends living in Larkspur, a town of fantastical people where horns, gills, and vibrant skin colors are commonplace. Juniper is an apprentice baker, while Hadley is a musician hungry for adventure. After a bakery customer requests an unusual pastry, the two friends volunteer to gather ingredients in the nearby forest. On this errand, they learn that a mystery creature is eating local crops, and they decide to investigate. Soon, Juniper and Hadley are meeting unusual creatures, making discoveries about themselves, and helping to mediate between the townsfolk and a magical new friend.
This is a gentle story full of well-intentioned characters. There are no villains, only misunderstandings, and no one gets hurt. In addition to the main plot, which involves respecting nature and animal habitats, there is an emotional arc in which Hadley becomes more comfortable with their nonbinary identity and Hadley and Juniper finally acknowledge their mutual crush and get together as a couple.
In addition to having no violence, this book has no sexual content beyond a quick kiss. There is a little discussion of gender: Hadley feels insecure about their nonbinary identity, and is reassured by a conversation with a fey who explains that most fey “don’t really relate to gender at all… a rigid binary like that doesn’t exist for us.” The publisher recommends the book for ages 12 and up, but I think it would be perfectly appropriate for kids a few years younger as well.
The art is straightforward and character-focused, with simple backgrounds and sparse detail. The color palette is soft, leaning heavily on earth tones, especially in the settings. The page layouts vary: there are many full-page images, especially when magic is involved or a new location is introduced, but other pages are divided into anywhere from two to six borderless panels. The art matches the relaxed pace and gentle feel of the story, making for an easy, comfortable read.
There is some bonus material at the end of the book; a rough recipe for the mushroom galettes that sent Juniper and Hadley into the forest for ingredients, and some character sketches of the two protagonists. The author’s bio reveals that Fern Haught is nonbinary like Hadley and works in a bakery like Juniper.
Cozy fantasy has been gaining popularity recently, and this book is a great example of that genre. Hand it to fans of The Tea Dragon Society and other readers who like their adventures sweet and not scary.
The Baker and the Bard A Cozy Fantasy Adventure
By Fern Haught
Feiwel and Friends, 2024
Publisher Age Rating: 12 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Nonbinary ,
Character Representation: Nonbinary,